South Asia

Visit will give India more leverage over Sri Lanka: TNA

As Colombo is gearing up to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), moderate leaders of the Tamil National Alliance, which formed the Northern Provincial Council Government recently, say they are not opposed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Sri Lanka, especially if it includes a trip to Jaffna.

TNA leader R. Sampanthan urged New Delhi to consider Tamil Nadu’s opinion, while parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran earlier defended Canada’s decision to boycott the summit. TNA spokesman Suresh Premachandran said the TNA itself would boycott the meeting.

In effect, a strong case was made by them for boycott, by both the TNA and India. However, some members of the alliance suggest that a few within the TNA are more open to Dr. Singh’s visit, for they see this as an opportunity giving India more leverage with Sri Lanka.

Speaking to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, a TNA member — who earlier publicly sought a boycott — said Dr. Singh’s visit to Jaffna would beyond doubt send out a powerful message to the Sri Lankan government. “The benefits of Dr. Singh’s meetings with TNA leaders in Jaffna are bound to accrue over time,” he said, adding quickly that he could not be seen as publicly endorsing Dr. Singh’s visit.

Echoing the sentiment, another member said: “Dr. Singh’s visit may be helpful and give India more leverage, but we just cannot antagonise Tamil Nadu.” As a member put it, it was a case of being caught between Tamil Nadu’s rhetoric and New Delhi’s dilemma.

In what seemed like an acknowledgement of New Delhi’s role, Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, in an October 28 letter to Dr. Singh, thanked India for “persuading the Sri Lankan government” to hold the Northern Province elections under the 13th Amendment, besides inviting Dr. Singh to Jaffna. Though the letter had no reference to CHOGM, the fact that it was timed for the period just about a fortnight before the summit sparked speculation that Mr. Wigneswaran himself was, perhaps, open to Dr. Singh’s participation in CHOGM.

The TNA denied any such intention, as sections of the alliance have been urging Mr. Wigneswaran himself to boycott the summit. After a TNA meeting held at the Jaffna Public Library last week in connection with Mr. Wigneswaran’s participation in CHOGM, it was reported that he would not attend the meeting. However, sources in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi said Mr. Wigneswaran would attend the summit — something they have also been highlighting while trying to convince Tamil Nadu of the importance of Dr. Singh’s visit.

So far, there has been no official word from the TNA on his participation, but its members have said they will present a report to the leaders, including British Prime Minister Davind Cameron who may visit Jaffna on this trip.

Sections within the TNA that are opposed to Dr. Singh’s visit argued that his presence could only be an endorsement of the Sri Lankan government’s programme which, they said, was far from addressing the needs of Tamils populating the war-torn Northern Province.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 3:03:47 PM |

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